October 08 2013

Dear Mark: Salmon Pouches, Ray Peat, and Our Inherent Desire for Crispy Food

By Mark Sisson
75 Comments

Roast Pork

Ah, it’s good to be back with a regular old Dear Mark. Today we’re discussing the nutritional value of canned salmon, and whether the canning process negates some or much of the impressive nutrient profile of fresh salmon. After that, I discuss the dietary views of Ray Peat, an increasingly popular topic in the MDA forums and a seemingly wildly divergent way of eating. Is there any reconciliation to be made between Peat and Primal? I think so, actually. Finally, I explore why we might be inherently drawn to crispy, crunchy food despite the lack of potato chips, Fritos, and Pringles during the most formative years of our evolution.

Let’s go:

Dear Mark,

Do the packages of Chicken of the Sea Premium Wild-Caught Pink Salmon offer the same health benefits as a wild caught piece of salmon? Just looking for an easy way to get more salmon in my diet. Thanks!

James

For the most part, yes. Let’s break down the various health benefits and see how the canning process might affect them:

Minerals: Salmon is a rich source of various minerals, with selenium being the most prominent. Since heating doesn’t really break down minerals, you won’t lose any to the canning process. If you’re worried about minerals leaching into the salmon juice, just mix it into the salmon.

Vitamins: Thiamine is somewhat vulnerable to canning, but most of it is retained. Other B-vitamins (the only ones really found in salmon) are also well-preserved.

Vitamin D: Salmon is one the best dietary sources of vitamin D around, and canned pink salmon is no exception with around 400-500 IUs for every three ounces. Canning doesn’t change that.

Omega-3: Most research confirms that omega-3s are retained in canned fish. One study found that the most abundant fatty acid in samples of canned Mexican tuna was DHA. In another study, canned tuna, salmon, sardine, and jurel all retained high levels of omega-3s. Of course, there are some losses. Subjecting skipjack tuna to the canning process in another study totally eradicated the DHA and EPA levels. Meanwhile, the overall omega-6 PUFA content of the tuna increased due to migration from the canning oil.

It comes down to cooking time, temperature, and cooking brine/oil. Fish canned in brine or water are more susceptible to oxidation than fish canned in oil, with extra virgin olive oil being the most protective due to its polyphenol content (more protective even than synthetic antioxidant preservatives designed to prevent oxidation – nature wins again!). The description of the Chicken of the Sea canning process is generic, so it’s difficult to say anything definitive. But all in all I think canned salmon is often a great alternative to fresh.

Dear Mark,

What do you think of Ray Peat? I’ve noticed that some forum users like what he has to say. Where do you stand on his protocol?

Thanks,

Jon

Thanks for the question, Jon. Yes, I’ve seen that Ray Peat has been a topic of discussion in recent months. I’ll give you my take, but first a little overview on the “Peat protocol.”

It’s hard to talk about a “Peat protocol,” simply because the man himself hasn’t laid out a cohesive prescription (by design). From what I can tell, people are cobbling together a dietary regimen based on bits of advice Peat has doled out over the years in email consultations, excerpts from some of his research articles, and interviews he has given. I get the sense that his advice is very individualized and tailored to the person who’s receiving it rather than meant to be prescriptive to everyone. Most people are just reading the tidbits pulled from disparate sources and formulating a protocol based on them even though those tidbits weren’t necessarily intended for everyone. I doubt Peat himself lives off of nothing but gummy bears, OJ, coffee, and salted milk.

That said, there do appear to be some foundational principles that we can examine. Let’s take a look at them:

Saturated fats – Both camps agree that they’re awesome, stable and resistant to oxidation, and totally safe in the context of an otherwise healthy diet. The same goes for monounsaturated fats, which often appear alongside saturated fats. No arguments here.

Grains and legumes – Both camps avoid them, especially gluten-containing grains. Both camps agree that of the grains, rice and corn are the least problematic.

Use of the whole animal – Both camps support the consumption of the entire animal, including organs, glands, bones, and gelatinous connective tissue (which, remember, makes up a large percentage of the weight of a carcass that we usually just throw away nowadays). To achieve that, I’d like to see people making bone broth, eating oxtail and shank and chicken foot and turkey neck, and cooking up a pot of fish head stew every so often, not relying on gummy bears and marshmallows for their gelatin (although plain gelatin can be a helpful supplement and cooking ingredient). Judging from his article on gelatin, Peat would probably prefer gelatinous whole foods over reliance on purified gelatin, too.

PUFA avoidance – Peat and followers consider polyunsaturated fats to be toxic (both omega-3s and omega-6s), whether from whole foods or refined oils. I’ve always maintained that too many PUFAs, particularly omega-6 PUFAs, are problematic and inflammatory. The problem is that the studies they cite as evidence used refined oils, not food. They’re not feeding wild salmon to rats, or raw almonds to poultry. They’re giving refined diets rich in industrial seed oil because that’s the simplest way to modify PUFA content while minimizing confounding variables that might change the results (like selenium and astaxanthin in salmon or vitamin E and magnesium in almonds). I understand it, I just don’t think the results are necessarily applicable to whole foods that happen to contain PUFAs. And heck, the claims that PUFAs in any amount are hugely anti-thyroid and will shut your metabolism down just don’t pan out. One recent paper even found that omega-3s increased thyroid function in the liver. Given his recommendation of eggs and shellfish, I think Peat will admit a little whole food-PUFA is fine.

Sugar – Peat is “pro-sugar,” which many people interpret by eating plain white sugar by the quarter cup. I think this is a mistake and a far cry from what Peat actually promotes. From what I can tell, Peat is pro-sugar-via-fruit. Now, I’m obviously not a fan of fruit-based diets, but fruit is a whole unprocessed edible plant food, with all the fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that category entails. Fruit therefore is a legitimate source of calories, particularly if you’re active.

High-fat diets – Followers avoid high fat intakes, citing Peat, but Peat’s primary reason for limiting fat is to avoid PUFAs. He even says that “if the fat is mostly saturated, from milk, cheese, butter, beef, lamb or coconut oil, I think it’s usually o.k. to get about 50% of the calories from fat.” I think that’s reasonable.

My general impression is that the “Peat protocol” is anything but definitive, and what we can establish isn’t all that far removed from the Primal umbrella (albeit a high carb section of it). Now, as for the people mainlining table sugar and avoiding bananas because of the starch and skipping the leafy greens and berries because of the minimal amount of PUFAs and fearing muscle meat without an accompanying tablespoon of gelatin (or pack of gummy bears)? I think that’s all a little silly. Then again, if it works for you, it works for you. I’m not going to tell you to stop doing something that’s working (though I might suggest a few ways to improve).

You know, I bet Peat would be quite at home at PrimalCon. He might hoard the fruit and spike the coffee with crushed thyroid pills and aspirin, but I don’t think we’d catch him sneaking off to a grocery store for skim milk and strained orange juice or anything. His followers might be a bit disappointed in the California king salmon, though.

Why do we like or crave crunchy foods, especially since crunchy foods didn’t really exist to Grok? When I say crunchy foods, I’m more talking about modern crunchy foods such as chips. (Certainly you must have overheard someone at a party/gathering say they like “the crunch” of a chip or something).

When I think of anything crunchy on a Grok menu, I think of fresh peppers, carrots, or (stretching it here) cucumbers, or maybe even seeds or nuts – but there is nothing quite like a chip to give that ‘crunch’. Are we tapping into our primal genes here, or have we fallen victim to the chip companies who really sold us on the crunch[…]?

Thanks again Mark, hope all is well with you!

Ryan

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. A Thai family stripping a freshly roasted duck of its entire epidermis before touching even a morsel of muscle meat on the outskirts of Bangkok. I watched pork fat and pig ear shards glitter in the dark near a Malibu beach pig roast. All those moments will be lost in time, like spatters of fat to a grease shield.

If you were at PrimalCon Tahoe a couple weeks back, on the last night there, you’ll remember how Chef Aflalo made this braised beef dish that had the crispiest exterior (well, at least the part of the exterior that wasn’t submerged in braising liquid). It was incredible. I had to stop myself from snatching the crispy bits from other plates. And growing up in my family, the Pope’s nose on a roasted chicken (the fatty little tail nub) was prized and coveted by all.

My point? Crunchy or crispy food is great and inherently alluring, but I don’t think you need chips or crisps or industrial-sized vats of corn oil to get it. All you gotta do to turn fatty animal skin into crispy deliciousness is apply the simplest, most universal technology of all: fire.

Besides skin, you’ve also got all the edible arthropods humans and our ancestors have been eating for millions of years – the insects and the crustaceans. You may not have eaten a bug yourself, but you’ve probably stepped on one or two and heard the crunch. Just imagine that happening in your mouth, perhaps after a light roasting.

I imagine that some combination of crispy animal skin and crunchy arthropods – two relatively common dietary factors throughout human evolution – shaped our taste for crunch. Both bugs and crispy skin would have represented important nutrients to early humans: the protein and micronutrients found in insects and the animal fat found in animal skin (even an otherwise lean animal will have plenty of fat attached to its skin). The crunch may merely be a signal for healthy foods that’s been co-opted by food scientists. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time.

That’s what I’ve got, guys. What about you? What are your thoughts on canned (or pouched) salmon, Ray Peat, and crispy food?

Thanks for reading!

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75 thoughts on “Dear Mark: Salmon Pouches, Ray Peat, and Our Inherent Desire for Crispy Food”

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  1. If I wasn’t so paranoid of parasites I’d eat insects every week.
    Plenty of healthy bugs around my house…hehe.

  2. Having worked up in Alaska for 16 years, I’d be eating the canned Red Salmon instead. You do not want to know what the quality of the Pink Salmon is that goes to the cannery. The Red is much more costly, I know, but very well worth it!

    1. I am also a former Alaskan, and I would totally agree…… but don’t tell too many people. I want more of those tasty “Reds” for myself!!!

      1. I am not from Alaska, but I noticed that when I opened the pinks, my cats didn’t care. When I opened a can of the “Reds,” my off-the-street kitty came running. And it tastes better.

    2. Thanks for that info…I’ve been buying pink to save money but will definitely buy the red from now on. Who knew!

  3. LOVE your Blade Runner reference Mark! I’m picturing a young, bleach-blonde Rutger Hauer say “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. A Thai family stripping a freshly roasted duck of its entire epidermis before touching even a morsel of muscle meat on the outskirts of Bangkok. I watched pork fat and pig ear shards glitter in the dark near a Malibu beach pig roast. All those moments will be lost in time, like spatters of fat to a grease shield.”

    Great article and you made me laugh…

    1. OMG that made me laugh. I read the first line (accurately quoted) and it seemed eerily like Hauer’s end speech from Bladerunner. Huh, could be a coincidence. Then the rest of the parodied lines. Too awesome!

      The question remains: Do Replicants Dream of Primal Feasts?

  4. “He might hoard the fruit and spike the coffee with crushed thyroid pills and aspirin, but I don’t think we’d catch him sneaking off to a grocery store for skim milk and strained orange juice or anything.”

    Haha that’s great. Nice to hear your take on Ray Peat. I came to pretty much the same conclusion, although I recall reading somewhere that he promotes refined sugar (sucrose) over fruit sugar if you don’t have access to fresh, naturally ripened fruit. Anyone else remember this?

    1. Peat views white sugar as a supplement. It would be akin to people around here taking fish oil tablets if they don’t have access to fish. It is not, and never was intended to be a long term dietary staple.

    2. There are some posters on the forum who like sugar, which may draw some connection with Peat that isn’t really there? I don’t know anymore.

      Good to see Mark call Peat “high-carb” Primal” because that’s about what it is. Some people can do well on it. Me, I get fat on one bag of potato chips cooked in lard. Questions:

      At what point does high-carb Primal become so carby that it turns into a whole-and-unprocessed version of SAD/CW/CICO?

      For weight loss, is it necessary to go through the 3 (or 6) week Primal carb-flu transition first so you can handle more carbs, and then adopt Peat, or can one jump right into Peat without reprogramming your genes?

      If there’s too much sugar or starch or fruit, do we turn back from fat-burning Groks to sugar-burner Kelly Korgs? How long would that “de-primalizing” take?

      Does this upend the Carb Curve?

      Where does Peat’s focus on dairy fit in?

      1. I think that high carb primal becomes unprocessed SAD when you start to suffer the consequences of eating more carbs than you need. For some it’s weight gain, for me it’s anxiety, brain fog, drop in energy…the list goes on. Everyone knows what they do best on. As a very thin breastfeeding woman, I may eat more carbs than a heavier person attempting to lose weight, but one’s body will tell them exactly what they need.

  5. It seems to follow that the benefits of eating animal bones, eggshells and certain berries/fruits would also play large roles in our evolution of the “crunch affinity,” in addition to the roots, insects and charred animal skin.

    1. Good point on the animal bones and eggshells. I personally have not yet tried animal bones, but hasn’t Mark on a few different occasions talked about eating chicken bones?

      1. I love crunching up chicken bones, and so do my kids. I have even converted Mr Piglings to crunching them now. I didn’t need Mark to tell me it’s OK to crunch the bones – I just couldn’t stop myself from going further each time I chewed on a chicken leg/wing! If I am deboning a chicken for a casserole I usually roast the carcass and them – er – eat almost the entire thing. The cat finishes off whatever bones I don’t manage to eat.

        1. Ok, I’m curious – do you cook them or prepare them differently?

          Do you have any hints to eating them?

          I always thought that if chicken bones are bad for my dogs, they might be bad for me, too, leading to GI issues, etc.

        2. Cooked chicken bones can present a hazard to dogs but raw bones are fine. I think cats are a bit different because they can’t swallow pieces as big as a dog can.
          Cooked bones shard and are sharp projectiles-think of it like old fashioned glass in a car or a house sliding door. The old glass broke into shards but modern glass shatters into small bits.

  6. So last night, to accompany the primal meatloaf and green salad I had for dinner, I made sweet potato chips in the oven. For those of you that eat sweet potatoes, and like crunchy foods, you’ve got to try them! I sliced them super thin, warmed some bacon fat and lightly coated them in the fat, sprinkled them with course sea salt, and baked them in the oven until crispy. Delicious! 🙂

  7. I stepped on a roach in the middle of the night while barefooted once. It popped. Like a balloon. I don’t know why. The mixed insides splashed across the tile at least 6 inches. Imagine that in your mouth, no thanks Mark!!!!!!!!

  8. One thing to keep in mind when choosing between fresh and canned food is the lining of the can itself. BPA has received a lot of attention lately as one potential endocrine disruptor, but even if it is labeled “BPA-free,” there could still be other synthetic compounds used for lining and preservation.

    This probably doesn’t alter nutritional quality of the food too much, but like the issue of organic vs. conventional, little amounts of synthetic agents can build up in the body over time.

  9. Oooh, spooky! I’d never heard of Ray Peat until about 10 minutes ago when I started searching for thyroid solutions and I found myself back here at good old MDA – weird! Apart from the fact that there isn’t a ‘plan’, it doesn’t sound as tasty as bacon.

  10. I am firmly fixed in the “primal protocol” thank you very much. it’s wise to stay informed of what others are doing, but I have yet to find anything that trumps the pb!

  11. “Pope’s Nose” — that’s what my dearly departed and very Catholic mom called it too. And I’ve followed in her footsteps.

    1. We always called the ‘pope’s nose’ the little organ that oil comes out of located on the tail. We called the tail, ‘the tail’.

      1. My Momma would squeeze out that oil, rub it between her hands then massage it into our scalps. We all had a thick head of hair.

    2. It’s Parson’s Nose here. And it’s the chef’s treat. And I am invariably the chef so it’s staying that way.

  12. Mmm, crunchy. My favorite is chicken skins. Stretched out on a cookie sheet (with sides,) brushed with a little olive oil and seasoned with Old Bay or garlic salt then baked in the oven until crispy. Had it for snack last night.

        1. Ha! Indeed, from the chicken. 🙂 I meant does she take it off a whole chicken and the roast the chicken without the skin? Or maybe she buys chicken breast pieces with the skin on and takes it from there? I guess I had some fantasy of butchers selling skinless chicken breasts and saving the chicken skins to sell them separately to customers like us. 🙂 Is that a thing?

  13. Totally missed the Blade Runner reference! I’m still Primal after reading this and will continue. But what I’ve been really interested in is trying the Ketogenic stuff like Bulletproof Coffee. I haven’t searched but Mark have you anything to say about this or Elite runners going Keto?

    1. It is more ketogenic to just drink black coffee without butter. You can of course add MCT oil for ketone production but that is not the same as using your own fat stores for that (if that’s the goal …).

    2. Go to bengreenfieldfitness.com. He talks about it a lot. He did IronMan ketogenic.

    3. Why yes, as a matter of fact Mark does have something to say about this.

      https://www.marksdailyapple.com/primal-egg-coffee/#axzz2hEZEezSN

      I do too. I tried the bulletproof coffee and kind of went through a phase where I was drinking it every morning for a few months. It’s kind of hard to find MCT oil that doesn’t taste gross, though – I recommend regular virgin coconut oil. I think bulletproof coffee is probably more ketogenic than yogurt or nuts in the morning, but bacon and eggs are just as good. I was just liking how it filled me up until noon without having to cook bacon & eggs every morning when I’m already running late for work, as it’s easy to whip up some bp coffee to drink in the car. I never tried the primal egg coffee though, too scared of the raw eggs. Also, if you do MCT oil, take it easy at first. It takes your body a while to adapt to such a high quantity of MCT’s, it can make you a bit sickly feeling.

  14. I would avoid canned fish if I were you
    Also it’s not the crunch we are craving it’s the salty fried quality of said morsel

  15. Thanks Mark! I eat quite a bit of canned salmon, so this is all very interesting to me. And I’d wondered about the crunch. I glanced at the Peat threads in the forums but quickly lost interest. XD Hehe!

  16. What about Dairy? Peat is very big on dairy. I own a couple of his books and over the years I think I’ve read almost all of his online papers. I also subscribe to his newsletter. I find his work very interesting however I do notice that many times he draws on studies that were done in the 70’s. Outdated perhaps? I don’t know. With all of the information about what’s in milk ( IGF 1, IGF 2, GH, GHRF, TGF a, many steroid hormones, bio active proteins and peptides, etc.) and it’s implication in many diseases ( heart disease, metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, acne, asthma, etc.) he still advocates eating substantial amounts of dairy, except for yogurt due to the lactic acid content. I would love to hear Mark’s thoughts on this issue because I think that is the biggest difference between PB ( all Paleo really) and Peat.

  17. Pork Rinds ROCK!!! When I’m wishing for a crunchy munchy while watching TV or a movie, I get a big bowl of them and Pig out (pun intended). And I don’t even like that many crunchy things.

  18. LOL pope’s nose. Reminds me of my Grandpa, that’s what he called it. Thanks for that.

  19. Being raised in a Jamaican household, I can tell you that oxtail, fish head soup, turkey neck, tripe, tongue, cow feet, chicken feet, liver etc. were staples. My mother and grandmother were raised to use the whole animal and it’s funny, now that I’ve started this whole Primal journey, just how much I can learn from my mother and aunt about preparing some of these dishes (with a few tweeks here and there).

  20. For salty crunch, our family will cook up the shrimp tails left over from a good seafood stew, Just throw them in a pan with some coconut oil and a pinch of salt and cook those babies to crunchy perfection!

    1. Hmmm, I’ll give this a try! When I was little I begged for the salty, crunchy tails off my mom’s pan-fried fish… alas, she used cornmeal breading so they’re off my menu now. But I do always end up with plenty of shrimp tails going to waste– what a good idea!

  21. Some folks feel the craving for crunch comes from acrylamide addiction. Acrylamides form when food is exposed to high heat, such as toasting and browning.

  22. Are freeze dried fuit paleo? I tried freeze-dried pineapple, it’s super crispy, sweet and delicious…

  23. Is it true Ray Peat believes Coca Cola is healthy?? I dont’ think it’s only fruit he advocates from what I’ve read. I’ve been following some of Ray Peat’s articles from a certain practitioner posting on Facebook. His articles on PUFAs, livestock feed and Carageenan were eye openers & very helpful for ME & adjusting my diet. Carageenan was triggering my IBS, bloating & GI cramping.

    >>Ray Peat lost some credibility when he promoted drinking Coca Cola as healthy. I found this quote from a Ray Peat himself at Ray Peat Q&A website: *The brown stuff in coffee is very similar to the coke caramel; when I can’t get good coffee and juice, coke is convenient.*

    1. He’s talking specifically about Mexican Coca Cola. Coca Cola in mexico is made with actual sugar, rather than high fructose corn syrup or glucose-fructose. He uses sugar and honey as a supplement to fruit sugars, and has always said that the best sugars are from fruit.

  24. When eating canned salmon, I always eat the skin and the bones. I also get the crunch by eating the cartilage from the chicken breast, you know, the long triangular piece, or basically any piece of meat on the bone or the ends of the pork ribs. Still grosses out my daughter. Any thoughts/comments on this

  25. Just had to add another appreciative comment for the Bladerunner reference! My semi-muffled cackle of glee elicited startled looks from my office mates. Sadly they would understand neither the reference nor my delight at your interpretation.

  26. Love your site Mark. This post was interesting to me. I am not a big fan of canning but if done properly it can be very valuable. And I didn’t realize salmon had so much vitamin D. Thanks for sharing!

    Alfonso.

  27. Just had a thought on crispiness, inspired by some chicken wings that were not undercooked, but just barely. The skin was not crispy anywhere, and I almost couldn’t finish them. Crispy skin isn’t necessarily an indication of being adequately cooked, but it’s a safer bet than soft, limp skin. Blech. So maybe that’s a factor – tactile food safety indicators.